Phuket has a long history of playing host to foreigners. Phuket Town was founded in the 1st century B.C. by colonists from India. Ptolemy, a Greek geographer in the third century A.D., referred to it as ‘Jang Si Lang' – which later became ‘Junk Ceylon' and this is the name you will see on ancient maps of Thailand, or Siam.
Explorers, Traders and Villains
Because of its rich natural reserves the island has always been important, economically speaking. Ever since early times it has attracted explorers, traders and villains from as diverse places as Arabia, Sri Lanka, China and Portugal – all hungering for its ivory, pearls, timber, animal hides and gems.
In the 16th Century, tin came into Phuket's economical equation and the Dutch, as well as the French, came to the island because of it (Phuket even had a French-born governor at one time). The British were not far behind and they later sent Captain Francis Light to scout out the possibilities of controlling the strategically important Malacca Straits, using Phuket as a base.
Captain Light played a pivotal part in the most famous chapter in Phuket's history: the routing of the invading Burmese army in 1785. The Burmese had been repelled a year earlier but returned in a large fleet – which was spotted by the Captain. He lost no time in alerting the authorities in Phuket.
The island's governor had just passed away so the challenge of organising its defence was taken up by his widow, Kunying Chan. She and her sister Mook assembled what forces they could and, according to legend, disguised local women as male soldiers, thus making Phuket's military manpower seem invincible. The Burmese eventually lost heart and left after a month's siege and as a result King Rama 1 awarded Kunying Chan with the royal title of ‘Thao Thep Kasattri'.
Nowadays, one of Phuket's main thoroughfares is Thepkassatri Rd. It leads past a centrally located roundabout on which stand statues of Kunying Chan and Thao Sri Suntorn – Mook's royally bestowed title. ‘Heroine's Monument', as it is known, plays host to many locals who wish to pay their respects to their illustrious ancestors.
Two centuries ago, extensive tin mining drew thousands of Chinese labourers to the island and their influence and has remained, making Phuket the province with the highest percentage of ethnic Chinese in the country.
Today, Phuket Town is living testimony to this cultural impact with its decidedly Chinese-influenced architecture, cuisine and culture.
Phuket as a Tourist Paradise
When tourism first came to Thailand, Phuket was among the first provinces to embrace the industry and soon became a byword around the world for natural beauty and hospitality.
Just as in the old days, Phuket still plays host to foreigners – the island receives millions of visitors each year and it holds a special place in the heart of millions more who have tasted its hospitality, witnessed Phuket's natural splendor and enjoyed its unique culture.